Authors are special. They create fiction we can dive into, relate experiences that move our hearts, and often allow readers to think differently about a situation. With that in mind, I am honored to spend some time with Gwen (Gwendolyn) M. Plano today. Gwen and I met virtually just before the pandemic. I found her support remarkable and honest. I invite you to enjoy this discussion and share it with your friends.
Welcome, Gwen. Please share a little of your background with my readers and friends.
Thank you so much, Rox. It’s an honor to join you today. I remember and cherish our conversations.
My background? When someone asks me to share a bit about who I am, I always return to my childhood experience of growing up on a working farm. Those years of pitching in and sharing the load were formative. As the eldest of seven, I was a second mom to my siblings and always helped take care of the baby. Hard work and truthfulness formed the backbone of our lives. My parents grilled those two qualities into our core. Though it may surprise you, it is this early foundation that guided me throughout a long career in Higher Education.
Gwen, you have a rich background as an educator with teaching and administration in the US and Asia. How has this experience influenced your writing?
Working with college students fed my soul. I became a mom of sorts to several thousand 18 – 21-year-old students. Their innocence and their misjudgments broadened my world and my heart. Someday I may write about this lengthy experience, but to your question, those demanding but rewarding years helped me understand people – what motivates them, what frightens them, what separates or unites them.
You initially wrote a memoir in 2014, with a 2nd edition released in 2021. How did writing your story help you on your life journey?
My mom gave me a diary when I was quite young and told me to write down my thoughts. I’ve often wondered if mom knew that writing would help me with life. As I got older, I shifted to journaling. Across the pages of one volume after another, I spread my sorrows and my joys. I used pen and paper to talk through the mysteries and challenges of life. In the early 2000s, I knew I had to write my memoir. I laid my journals across the floor and began going through them, one by one. Some pages I could not read because they were just too sad, others brought me to my knees. As I proceeded, though, I met myself afresh. I realized how hard I had tried to make everything “right”. I saw courage, I saw despair, I saw selflessness. Ultimately, rereading the journals elicited respect and tenderness for the younger me. And to your question, writing the memoir became a journey of integration and freedom.
Do you feel that writing this always provides value and hope for others facing a similar situation?
That’s a complicated question, one that I’m not sure I can answer. As an introvert, I process situations interiorly, quietly, thoughtfully. I’m not sure if an extroverted person would value the writing experience as much as I did. But I do think everyone can profit from the writing journey.
You made an interesting shift from a memoir to a thriller novel. How did co-authoring with John Howell launch you into fiction, or did you lead the way?
I don’t think either of us led the way, but the initial concept was mine. Once I shared it with John, it became equally ours. He wrote sections, I wrote sections, then we worked on parts together. It was an unforgettable journey and for me, it was also a time of tutelage. John had already published several thrillers, and his critiques helped me grow into that genre. The two of us remain friends even to this day. You might find it interesting to know that we have only met once, at a book fair, and this encounter was after we published The Contract.
How has that first novel taken you on a journey to create the Contract Thriller Series?
There were questions to answer, blanks that needed filling, and I decided to tackle that need through The Choice. As I wrote, though, the story evolved even more, which ultimately led to another book, The Culmination. I hadn’t planned on writing a series, but the story took me on a journey and that adventure led to the series.
Do you attend library, local book clubs, and bookstore events to share your stories with new potential readers? If so, what are your favorite events to meet and greet readers?
Since COVID, I haven’t attended any events. Prior to the virus, I loved going to local events, meeting people, sharing my books, and supporting other writers in the process. Hopefully, this next year will offer that same welcoming space. Wouldn’t it be delightful?
You have several published books. Which of these is your favorite and why?
The Culmination is my favorite because it turned my world upside down. I did immense research for this book, study that took me into the backrooms of our government, into the investments and voting records of elected officials, and deep into the tensions of the Middle East. What I found shocked me to my core. I discovered a world I didn’t know existed, which included nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, a world of profiteers and innocents.
As part of my research, I kept a large, detailed map of the Middle East on my wall. I tracked deployments, carrier strike groups, and much more. I subscribed to five newspapers and daily checked on several international online news sources.
The Culmination is a fictional story, but the underlying details are very real. So, as you might imagine, the current horror in Afghanistan is particularly sad for me. I worked with Marine veterans when I lived in California, and every day their brave faces flash before me.
What are the most positive influences for you as an individual?
Nature is restorative for me. I’ve recently moved to a mountainous area in Arizona. Every morning, just as light begins to appear, I take a long walk. I breathe Life. I see Beauty. And as I do so, I’m released from the worries of the world. My faith accompanies me wherever I might be, and always family and friends fill my heart with joy.
I know when you lived in Japan, you acquired a fondness for Haiku. Where can readers discover your poetry?
Some of my Haiku are on my website, and next month a couple of my poems will appear in The Moons of Autumn by Colleen Chesebro. Otherwise, I regularly post poems, particularly Haiku, on my blog. Thank you for mentioning this, Rox.
Are your fictional characters created from people you know?
No, they are all fictional. I might include a variation of a clever phrase that struck me or aspects of a poignant scene, but otherwise, the characters stand alone. They are just part of my busy imagination.
Most authors I know are also readers. Do you have a favorite author and genre that keep you flipping pages?
I read most genres, and yes, there are several authors who inspire me. Dan Brown is one of those authors. I like how he builds intrigue, how he unravels religious mysteries, and I relate to his writing style. That said, there are a number of Indie writers who daily humble me with their expertise. I’m partnered with writers in Story Empire, and these folks are exemplary. In addition to novels, though, I read a lot of nonfiction. I’m a natural researcher, and I can spend days/weeks digging deep into a topic.
What is your next story on the drawing board, and when can your fans plan to enjoy it?
I completed a very rough draft of The Call for Freedom months ago. However, because of life interruptions and because of the growing political tensions, I paused. My thesis is in motion right now, and that is a bit unnerving. Perhaps next week, perhaps next year, I’ll edit and publish the book, but for now, it rests.
What, if anything, do you hope to gain from reading your reviews?
Reading the reviews helps me understand what the reader likes about the book and perhaps what he or she hoped to find. The reviews also help me understand if I’ve effectively communicated what I’ve hoped to share.
You take a trip and end up in your favorite city in the Midwest at a small-town bed and breakfast. The proprietor learns you are an author and invites you to join her book club meeting to read to the group. What book would you prefer reading from for this group? Unknown to you, one of the members of this group is your favorite author. You are ecstatic to be seated next to a famous author. What do you want to ask this author to discuss in a private conversation with you?
I would probably read from The Culmination, a new beginning. As I mentioned earlier, I lived/breathed this book as I wrote it and have been irrevocably changed because of it.
If I were seated next to Dan Brown, I’d ask him what motivated him to write religious thrillers. What did he see/experience that sparked his imagination, and his need to understand, his quest for answers?
My academic background is in theology, and I’m always on a quest. I’d ask Dan if he were as well. Oh, I’d so love this conversation!!
Do you have a favorite social media do you like to use to talk about authors and books?
Other than Twitter, I don’t use social media much. I try to blog at least once a week. I try to support other writers with their posts. But I’m not consistently on social media.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming authors?
Just write. Forget all the dos and don’ts; just let your heart speak. The greatest books I’ve ever read may have had a typo here or there, but if I found the writer’s heart in the story, I’m forever a fan. I may forget the storyline and the characters, but a writer who pens through their heart, I never forget. And, Roz, this last comment holds true for you. I met you through the pages of your books – by discovering your heart.
FIND AND FOLLOW GWEN
Twitter – https://twitter.com/gmplano
Website – http://www.gwenplano.com/